Are you living with anxiety or panic attacks?
There are many reasons you may feel anxiety as a teen, but coping with anxiety is not something that you need to or should do long term. It is a time when school or uni or work pressure can be intense, not to mention the challenges of relationships with friends and family. Feeling anxious, for a short period, about an upcoming test, a performance or speech, or a relationship break up is normal but ongoing anxiety and panic attacks are not normal.
When you feel anxious about some future event or situation, your brain thinks you are in danger right now and starts producing adrenalin and other body chemicals to get you ready to ‘fight’ the danger, or run away (the ‘fight/flight response’). You might notice your heart racing, your skin sweating, or feel ‘butterflies’ in your stomach. You may feel uptight, worried, nervous or afraid.
But feeling anxious is different to having a panic attack. A panic attack can be really scary. Your heart can beat so hard it feels like it’s going to jump out of your chest, or you can feel like you can’t breathe, or you might feel dizzy or nauseous, too. Sometimes it can feel so bad that you think you’re dying or going mad.
Anxiety can be tied into feelings of depression (or feeling ;’low’) and may have you also feel withdrawn or sometimes aggressive. Many of us will have short-lived anxiety, but if anxious feelings are ongoing and are severe enough to be impacting on your ability to function and think clearly day-to-day, then seeking professional help either through a school counselor, your GP or a parent are good places to start.
Types of anxiety:
Social anxiety – This specific anxiety is experienced in social situations and is related to feeling you are being judged or under intense pressure in that situation. You may all of a sudden feel like being at school or in social situations has you tight in the chest and feeling lightheaded.
Generalised Anxiety – Feelings of excessive worry about everyday situations and occurences.
Phobias – Intense fears of specific objects or situations – eg- heights, spiders, leaving the house, being enclosed.
Panic attacks /Panic Disorder – Panic attacks are common: two out of five people will have one at some time in their lives. For young people they are often a sign of the anxiety that comes with growing up and will pass. For others, physical illness (e.g. asthma), stressful or traumatic events, substance abuse and genetic factors can all play a part.
Coping with Anxiety and Panic Attacks
Whatever the cause, you don’t need to live with high levels of anxiety and once you learn positive ways of coping with anxiety or stress, you won’t have to.
• Slow your breathing
Count to three as you breathe in and again as you breathe out. If you manage to slow your breathing, your heart will also slow down (and you’ll get more oxygen to your brain to help you think straight). If you can, get some water and sip it really, really slowly.
• See anxiety as not really a part of you
If you give your anxiety symptoms a lot of attention, they become more frequent and stronger. This is because your brain decides what’s important based on how much attention you give it. Try to see your symptoms as a glitch in your biochemistry, and no big deal, and the normal you knows better. Your brain will slowly get the message.
• Identify your triggers
Get some online help to identify and change the patterns of thinking and behaviour that trigger your anxiety, or stop you from overcoming it.
Know that you can move past your feelings of panic, fears or worry and recover from anxiety. We have some simple steps you can take to calm yourself as well as some trusted places to seek help.
- ecouch and Moodgym offer free online treatment for anxiety disorders (and depression) that you can do at your own pace.
- My Compass provides online self-help modules for young people with mild to moderate stress, anxiety and depression.
- There are also useful apps that you can download to your phone.
However, if you’ve had quite a few panic attacks or you’re starting to feel a constant sense of dread even when you’re ‘safe’, it’s important to get professional face-to-face help.
If you don’t get help, you might eventually become so anxious about being anxious that you won’t leave home in case you can’t cope with your anxiety in public. This is panic disorder.
If you think you might be at risk, please see your doctor. You might even need to take medication for a little while.
1. Talk to someone about how you are feeling: a close friend, a trusted adult or a trained counsellor on one of these 24/7 help lines:
- Lifeline 13 11 14
- Kids Helpline 1800 551 800
- Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467
- Youth Beyondblue 1300 224 636
2. Write down your thoughts or draw something to express how you feel.
3. Find a simple way to relax. Go for a walk; have a warm bath; lie in a hammock and swing gently; burn some aromatic oil; cuddle or stroke a pet (all these things are soothing for your senses).
Try a relaxation exercise like this one:
Lie down flat on a bed or the floor, taking slow deep breaths. Beginning with your toes, focus on relaxing the muscles of each body part all the way up to your head. By bringing your awareness to your body, your mind can shift away from its negative thoughts.
4. Please get a friend or relative to come over, or go to stay with them.
5. Get rid of any items that you could use to hurt yourself.
6. Go to bed and try to sleep. If you can’t sleep, try a relaxation exercise like the one above.
If you have been prescribed sleeping tablets, take a safe dose of these; even if you do not sleep, they will lessen your emotional pain. Doctors give people painkillers when they have bad physical pain; it’s the same for psychological pain.
When you wake up, things will often seem very different, and you can access help from family, friends and professionals.